Test Scores Up 
By Alex Saitta 
August 13, 2013 
 
This was a letter to the editor that I sent the local newspapers. 
 
To the editor, 
 
Test scores for the past year are starting to trickle out and the results are positive. In high school the test I focus on is the HSAP or exit exam. Unlike the SAT or ACT (which less than half take), the exit exam is taken by all high schoolers.  
 
In 2013, on average, 86.1% of the students passed both the math and English parts of the test on the first attempt. That is up from 84.0% in 2012, with Daniel, Liberty and Pickens high schools showing gains year over year.  
 
The 86.1% figure is the highest score for our district on the exit exam since I started recording scores in 1999. That coupled with the districtís rising graduation rate, shows marked improvement in high school academic performance.  
 
In elementary and middle school, the PASS test is key because all 3rd through 8th graders take this comprehensive test.  
 
In 2013, on average the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level in the five subjects areas fell from an average of 78.7% to 78.2%. That slight pullback followed a 2 percentage point gain in 2012, so the current level is above that of 2011, 2010 and 2009. Elementary and middle school scores are moving higher too.  
 
Looking at the individual schools, at Ambler Elementary the past five years the percentage of students testing at or above grade level in all subjects rose from an average of 84.8% to 91.4% and that average has risen every year. Ambler now has the highest PASS scores in the county. Clearly academic performance is improving and what is most impressive is it has been done in a tough economic environment.  
 
Academic performance is primarily a function of the talent a district has at its core --- the superintendent, curriculum director, principals and teachers. The primary reason our districtís performance is rising is due to improvements at its core. For this reason the board recently gave Superintendent, Dr. Pew a three year extension on her contract.   
 
Like all other supporting areas of the system, the school board has had some positive effect on the core educational effort too. Mainly, the board has solved two major issues, and taken them off the front burner, and this has enabled everyone to get their eyes back on the educational ball.  
 
In 2008 the building program was way over budget and floundering in a pool of budgetary and construction problems and this occupied the focus of the entire district. Bob Folkman, Dr. Mendel Stewart, Jim Shelton and Dr. Henry Hunt came in and solved those problems, got the program on track, and with each passing month more of the building program was put behind us to where it is now nearly complete.      
 
In 2011 the budget situation was consuming the time and effort of the entire district as it was dealing with its third deficit in a row. That year the board decided to bite the bullet and made the necessary spending cuts to not only balance the budget for 2012, but 2013 and 2014 as well.  
 
Now the focus of teachers, principals and the superintendent is no longer building renovations or new construction designs; it is no longer budgets and who needs to be cut next. The focus is and remains education, and the academic performance of the students.  
 
The academic results of all these efforts are starting to show.  
 
Alex Saitta 
School Board Trustee ó Pickens 
 
 
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